On April 4, 2024, the Premier’s Task Force on Emergencies Recommendation were released at Thompson Rivers University at a press conference attended by B.C. Premier David Eby, Forest Minister Bruce Ralston, members of the Task Force, representatives from the university, and many BC Forest Service staff and personnel.

The focus of the event was to announce funding for a new wildfire research centre at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, that will focus on mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate chaos that will result in intensive wildfire seasons in the future. As the press release explains: “This centre will offer everything from basic training all the way through to post-doctoral work on fire behaviour and science, so that we have the full range of expertise right here in British Columbia,” Eby said. “This will be a first of its kind centre in North America, where people can earn credits for this kind of educational work, and this training towards an undergraduate degree.” Eby says the new centre will enhance the training capacity at the BC Wildfire Service, which will transition some of its existing training programs and courses into the centre’s new curriculum. It is expected that more than a 1,000 workshops will be offered a year by 2028-29. TRU says the new institute and the new wildfire training and education centre will build on an existing fire science lab as well as the provincially funded Innovation Research Chair “to form a world-class Wildfire Learning, Research and Innovation District at TRU.”

The new wildfire learning centre overshadowed the second objective of the news conference, which provided the recommendations of the Task Force and government’s intentions for implementation. You can read the entire Task Force report here.

The effort to see accountability and changes in wildfire management began before the all the flames for the Shuswap firestorm were extinguished last fall. Working with a group of experts who have decades of experience working at senior management levels in wildfire suppression, all the concerns were compiled along with a series of recommendations that became online petitions that now have over 6,000 signatures. In December, retired wildfire expert and now critic, Bruce Morrow and I met with a key member of the Task Force and presented our petitions to him for inclusion into the process.

Yesterday, the results of the work of the Task Force were released that included 31 recommendations. We are pleased that many of the key concerns and recommendations we presented were recognized and included. There is no doubt that many of our issues matched those of the other groups that provided input to the Task Force. We are also pleased that the government has accepted all the recommendations and announced that work has begun to implement many of them already.

The problem now is that the devil is in the details, as the government provided no real substance to their announcement. The entire exercise does feel like a repeat of how previous governments reacted to the two key former past inquiry reports, The 2003 Filmon and 2021 Abbott-Chapman reports, when intentions for implementation turned out to be empty-handed.

Forest Minister Bruce Ralston, with Premier David Eby at the press conference

These key issues: improving initial attack with adequate air resources, making sure all hands are on deck to fight fires, improving evacuations, and allowing residents to remain and be able to fight fires are covered in the recommendations, but there were no specifics were provided regarding implementation. All we have are vague promises. The Premier boasted that additional aircraft will be part of this year’s firefighting team, but one insider has recently revealed that there will only be 7 tanker groups this year compared to the 8 groups available last year, which was not even sufficient.

What was left out is also concerning. There is no mention of the need to re-establish the fire warden system. There is no recognition of need to minimize the use of out-of-province management teams, nor is there any mention of the need for a thorough, independent review of both the BC Wildfire Service and the Shuswap Firestorm disaster. Equally troubling, is there is no mention of the use of backburns (controlled ignitions), which have been failing miserably resulting in major devastation in many communities, especially the Shuswap.

The BC public is extremely concerned about this year’s fire season, given the extreme drought, the build-up of fuel and persistent memory from last year’s disasters, thus they deserve to know exactly how the province intends to prevent more wildfire disasters this summer and in future summers. For example, how will initial attack be improved, how many more air resources will there be, how will locals be able to fight fires and get supplies when there are evacuation orders, how will logging contractors be allowed to action fires and how will local knowledge be integrated into the firefighting?

Until the details are available for how the province plans to implement the recommendations, we remain anxious and worried. Already, the BCWS appears to have failed to adequately action the first fire of the season, near Merritt. This summer will be the real test for the BC Wildfire Service. If we see them fail yet again at initial attack, do more control burns that escape and destroy homes and at preventing fires from devastating communities, then the public trust will be lost for good unless there is a full independent inquiry that results in significant changes in both staffing and procedures at the BC Wildfire Service.

Media coverage:

Radio NL interview Salmon Arm Observer


Full Transcript from the event:

(see where the Premier brings up the Shuswap in response to a question – in BOLD below)

David Eby: We’re here on a serious topic. Last summer we had one of the worst forest fire seasons that BC has ever seen, in the last three years we’ve seen two of the worst forest fire seasons our province has ever seen, and the trend is clear and profoundly concerning. Right now the snowpack is much lower than normal, many parts of our province at the highest level of drought, and the fire threat is very profound. 

I was discussing with Minister Ralston just before we came out one of the striking memories that we had from last summer, which was visiting Revelstoke where we met with the Gale family and discussed the loss of their daughter, Devyn Gale, who was a BC Wildfire fighter. Devyn and her family, her brother and her sister were all firefighters together and her dad the coordinator at the local high school of a program to recruit and educate young people about the opportunities to join the wildfire service. It was a devastating memorial and Devyn’s death was one of six firefighters that we lost last season; tens of thousands of people evacuated.

It just underlines the seriousness and the importance of this issue for all BCers and why we need to continue to show leadership to address these issues and to do things better any way that we can. We owe a debt to the people standing behind me here who were able to join us here today, but also to all BCers who live in communities that could be threatened by wildfire. 

And that’s why we’re here. There’s a larger context, of course, of the drought that we’re seeing and the forest fires that we’re seeing, which is climate change. Our province is in the middle of, I would say, an unfortunate debate about whether or not we continue to take action on climate change in this province. 

We need to for two reasons. One is obviously for our kids’ future and to do our part as BCers. The other is for economic growth. We know where the world economy is going. It’s going to a low carbon future and we need to be part of that if we want to be economically successful and the good news is we have all the advantages here to be able to be part of that. We have the technology, we have the resources, we have the people to lead in the global low carbon economy and we’re going to keep taking that action. 

Following last summer’s forest fire season, there was broad agreement across government that it was time for us to take a look at what had happened and examine how we could do things better. The scale and the scope of what we were seeing just profoundly concerning and to make sure that we’re keeping up with the demands that are being placed on the wildfire service and on communities and on emergency support teams at the local level that provide that care and support for people who are being evacuated. 

What we didn’t want to do is set up a big investigation and review that would spend a year and then issue a report right in the middle of the next wildfire season. We didn’t have that kind of time. So what we did instead was we set up a task force that put together members of the public service at the senior level with leaders and experts in the field, both here in Canada and internationally, to go through as best as we could understand at the time what had happened in the past fire season, what we could do better going forward so that instead of a report being issued a year later and then the work starting on the recommendations, that work could start right away and we could be prepared as much as possible to incorporate the suggestions that we had into this fire season. 

And I’m very pleased to say, and we’re grateful to all the members of the task force and the public service who worked together so well, that the reason we’re here today is to share one of the flagship announcements, but also to share that many of the recommendations that have been brought forward are already well underway within the government of BC to ensure that we do an even better job next year responding because there’s always room for improvement. 

The expert task force spent six months meeting with experts, meeting with people in fire-affected communities, and they prepared more than 30 recommendations for us. Those recommendations are being released today, but one of the key and one of the flagship recommendations for us involves this beautiful school that we’re at here today — TRU.

The recommendation was that we really needed to up our game in terms of the training and the opportunities for people to deepen their knowledge and their skills to build out the leadership of the wildfire fighting teams that we have here in the province. TRU’s history, of course, is that they had already started the foundational work in partnership with the wildfire service, bringing together experts to look at how we could apply academic rigour to understanding fire behaviour and enhance our ability to predict where fires go and how to keep people safe.

Building on that foundation, I’m very pleased to announce that we will be establishing a wildfire and education training centre right here at TRU. The centre will offer everything from basic training all the way through to post doctoral work on fire behaviour and science so that we have the full range of expertise right here in BC. This will be a first-of-its-kind centre in North America where people can earn credits for this kind of educational work and this training towards an undergraduate degree. 

This training institute will also be very practical. It will be a partnership between TRU and the BCWS to ensure that the education is as applicable as possible to the realities we face here in BC. Program design is starting this year and courses will launch as early as next year. Establishing this centre will ensure that we have the people with the skills that we need to respond to this continuing and evolving threat in BC.

I wanted to take this moment to thank the task force and everybody involved in today’s announcement and in the work that will come ahead because the centre will be absolutely amazing and, we all expect, world-leading. So thank you.

Now for the bulk of the task force recommendations, we’re releasing a document today that outlines all the recommendations and some of the actions that have been taken, but broadly there were a number of recommendations that enabled us to take action right away. And so some of these recommendations that are already underway include increasing the use of new technology, including AI to predict fire behaviour and to be able to ensure we’re keeping people safe, better support for evacuees, ensuring that there’s training available for emergency support workers that is streamlined so that there are more local support workers who are available and people are better supported when they’re evacuated, enhancements to firefighter recruitment to make sure that we have the team that we need going into the forest fire season, and boosting our firefighting fleet and equipment — the technology that’s available to fight across a broad variety of terrains — and hopefully including firefighting at night, despite the dangers that that can present.

When I was in West Kelowna at one of the response centres, I met a woman from West Kelowna whose home had burned down and she told me — I was like, oh my god, I’m so sorry — she’s like, listen, I’m safe, my family’s safe, that’s the most important thing. This was terrifying. But her whole thing — she just wanted to find the chief of the fire service to say thank you to the West Kelowna Fire chief for keeping her and her family safe. It was a really moving thing to see someone who had lost everything just so desperate to say thank you to the person who saved her life, saved the life of her family members, and it’s a reminder of how hard our firefighters work, how much their work is appreciated, and I wanted to say thank you so much to the brave men and women behind me, to all the firefighters in our province, because we know it’s going to be a long summer and we’re grateful that you’ve stepped up. Thank you very much.

Bruce Ralston: Good morning everyone. Great to be here on the territory of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc.

As BC’s Minister of Forests, I’m also the minister responsible for the BC Wildfire Service, so as much as this announcement of a new wildfire training centre is an important step for British Columbia, I think it’s even more exciting and meaningful for our wildfire and emergency management personnel who will be directly impacted, including the people in red and blue, and some in grey, that surround us today.

We’ve seen over the last few years as the Premier has said, that wildfire in our province is becoming more and more impactful and intense each summer. Because of that, we are incredibly fortunate to have such a dedicated group and team of wildland firefighters here in BC. They work incredibly hard to keep people and communities safe. We know that working in such difficult conditions takes its toll and we need to support our wildland firefighters to succeed now and for the long term.

That is why the following advice from the task force that the Premier has just laid out some of the recommendations, but the task force on emergencies has directed us to take the following measures. We strengthened recruitment this year, leading to nearly 2,000 applicants, double the number we had last year. We’ve also enhanced recruitment from rural, remote and First Nations communities, providing us with more opportunities to take local knowledge and networks and use it to fight the fires.

And now we’re taking a major step to strengthen our capacity to train wildland firefighters and support their long-term development and careers.

The groundbreaking BC wildfire training and education centre right here at TRU will be the first in North America to ladder wildfire training into degree programs and research, all with a specific focus on wildfire. The BC Wildfire Service has a core of training already and this will be enhanced in this centre.

Through the new centre, we will take action to grow our local contingent of wildfire fighters, provide them with cutting edge science and technology and support their long-term career development here in British Columbia. From hands-on basic training in the field to the development of diploma and academic degrees, the new centre here at Thompson Rivers University will be an educational destination for people from British Columbia, nationally and indeed from around the world.

Thompson Rivers University and Kamloops are a perfect training ground for people interested in wildland firefighting. Home to the Kamloops fire centre and the provincial wildfire headquarters, opportunities for on-the-ground training are right on the doorstep.

I would like to acknowledge today the crew members and wildfire service staff members here from K2, the Kamloops Fire Zone, the Kamloops Fire Centre and the Provincial Wildfire Coordination Centre. Thank you for your service to our province. I’m really thrilled. I’m just a little bit overwhelmed to share this announcement today here in Kamloops with all of you, so thank you very much.

Starting this year, the BC wildland fire service will begin to transition and expand its existing training programs and courses into the centre’s new curriculum. By 2028-29, over 1,000 workshops will be offered every year, which will translate into 10,000 course registrations. Those wishing to pursue higher education will have access to diploma and academic programs right here on campus. For example, the disciplines will include wildfire and climate science, behavioural science, predictive technologies, forest ecology, fire weather and First Nations history and cultural fire.

Through the new BC wildfire training and education centre here at TRU, we are taking action to strengthen wildfire prevention, preparedness and response here in British Columbia. We are making sure that our wildland firefighters have the training, technology and science they need, and we are working to keep our families and our communities and our businesses safe.

On behalf of all the British Columbians, I want to thank all of the BC Wildfire Service personnel at today’s event for everything you do for our province. Together, we will be taking action on the challenges ahead.

Shortly, you will hear from task force members who’ve been working to bring forward the recommendations we’ve talked a little bit about that will guide our decision-making in the future. I’d like to recognize their dedication and hard work over the last several months. Thank you.

Q & A

Reporter: Just to start off, I guess one of the recommendations — haven’t had a chance to look at them yet — but is this school going to be doing anything as far as when it comes to training volunteers, people that live in the areas that are impacted by wildfires and how they can best protect themselves?

Eby: The focus of the training, as I understand it, is going to be everything from basic training for wildfire service and for emergency response, local community members, right up to PhD level research about wildfire behaviour and best practices. But the question might be better turned over to the minister. I see him walking up so I’ll give Bruce a shot.

Ralston: Thanks very much. Yes, indeed, one of the focuses and one of the recommendations of the task force is the method by which volunteers and communities will be better integrated into the way that BCWS responds to fires. I think we’re aware over the last few years there have been communities who’ve expressed a very strong desire to get involved directly in fighting fires. That’s a response that we want to encourage, but at the same time it’s important that those people get the training to enable them to be more effective and to integrate into the overall firefighting effort. So the task force has been very alive to that. 

There are some very good examples in BC. The Chinook Society, which operates in the north between Francois and Ootsa Lake, had a very bad wildfire in 2018. They started working with the BCWS. It wasn’t always harmonious at the beginning, but they have a very well developed community response with individual assignments and community coverage.

So increasingly, the wildfire service, Rob Schneider, who’s a senior official at the wildfire service, is in charge of that program and I expect you will hear more specific announcements from that section of the wildfire service about how that recommendation will be implemented in the future. Thank you.

Reporter: My follow up isn’t about this, it’s on behalf of another colleague in Vancouver that was hoping that I could ask you a question about a CMHC report. What’s your reaction to the forecasting that — the housing start decline in Vancouver this year? Housing starts will decline in Vancouver this year despite all the policy and housing programming from your government announced recently.

Eby: I raised the concern with the Bank of Canada about the impact of rising interest rates on BC’s housing market. In particular, one of the unintended consequences of raising interest rates at the central bank is that it makes construction financing more expensive for people who are building rental housing and people who are building homes that we desperately need. And that has the knock on effect of making housing even more expensive because we’re reliant on the same pool of rental housing, the same pool of housing that’s been built with a growing population.

So instead of controlling inflation, the rising interest rates are driving inflation. Housing inflation by far is the biggest driver of inflation in BC. So I wrote to the head of the Bank of Canada explaining my concerns about this and I do hope that they take that seriously. It’s not just a BC concern, it’s a national concern about the impact on the housing market of high interest rates.

The work that we’re doing as a government is about making it easier to build the housing that we need. We’re projecting about 100,000 units to come from just one initiative, which is allowing people to build more than one unit on a single family lot. This opens up development to a whole range of home builders, much smaller home builders, to be able to build the housing that we need and it allows a homeowner to take on a project without having to hire an architect and an expert in city hall processes and everything else. They can just get that development permit and build the house instead of doing multiple rounds of public hearings about whether or not they should be allowed to build a townhouse.

And so we’re making the changes that we need to make to get these homes built. We expect significant impact from these changes, but, boy, it would be a lot better and we would have a lot more if interest rates came down, and I know that’s a feeling that many BCers have broadly, not just related to housing.

Reporter: I just want to know if, in the task force recommendations, there’s any consideration for expediting the speed at which initial attack crews get to wildfires and action the fires when they start. 

Eby: Maybe I’ll turn that over to a task force member or to the Minister. 

Task Force Member: We spent a lot of time on this discussion, and it’s an integrated response, is really what we spent the most time talking about, is ensuring that the closest resource, whether that be a local municipal or structural fire department, BC Wildfire crews. The forest industry has a legislative responsibility. And so there’s a specific recommendation around ensuring that initial attack can happen in a way that expedites that, so there’s no delay that we may have experienced in the past. 

And then the other thing that needs to come into this is we also need to be integrated from the perspective of every fire doesn’t necessarily need to be extinguished. We need to manage fires where there’s an opportunity to manage fire, but we need to ensure that initial response happens without delay, and that recommendation came forward from our task force.

Reporter: And I guess just for my follow up, just point of clarity, will the new fire centre involve building a new building here at TRU, and if not, why not?

Eby: So the short answer is yes. There’ll be a beautiful new facility housing these training programs. The exact location of the building is yet to be determined, but it will be owned and operated by TRU.

Reporter: Does the task force directly address the issue of homeowners who want to stay and protect their own property? And specifically in the Shuswap last year, a lot of property owners wanted to protect their own property, but the area that they were in was an evacuation zone. I think some of them might have been able to get training, and so maybe that’s why it’s relevant now. Did the task force address that issue?

Eby: Thanks. I’ll take this at a high level and then maybe pass it over to the task force to consider. At the height of the fire season in the Shuswap, there was badly affected communities and there were a lot of people in the community that had significant backgrounds in forestry, in fire control, and knowing the local landscape, who knew that they could assist and wanted to stay behind and assist the Wildfire Service in responding to the fires protecting homes. And in fact, my understanding is that they did protect a number of homes in the community.

This resulted in conflict that we’re really hoping to avoid in the upcoming fire season. When there’s an emergency, we don’t want to be dealing with conflict on the ground. We want to be working together as a unified whole.

So this was one of the specific areas that I asked the task force to look at. How do we better integrate local knowledge? How do we better integrate local people into our fire response? 

For the initial round, the Wildfire Service is placing a greater emphasis on hiring across the province and giving people an opportunity to choose which parts of the the province they work in, so that people with knowledge of the local community and local terrain are more likely to be working in an area that they know well, and where they know the people and those relationships of trust are already in place.

The second is around Indigenous training, training with First Nations, especially in more rural and remote areas where First Nations are going to be on the front lines of wildfire response. Making sure the First Nations have the equipment, the tools, the training, the support to be able to do the initial attack when a fire shows up and to respond quickly. And so those are the initial pieces. But this was an area that I did ask the task force to look at specifically.

I also, specific to this community, want to note that there was very good engagement with the regional district by the task force, multiple meetings. The regional district has also gone out and done a lot of work to gather information from the local community, to bring together recommendations to feed into the task force, as well. And I want to express my appreciation to them for their work so that we can learn from that experience and move forward. 

Does someone from the task force want to address this as well? 

Task force member: I think its important to recognize that the recommendations that the task force put forward represent an all-of-society approach to response to the climate emergencies that we’ve been experiencing. And specifically there is a recommendation around pathways for local community involvement but really focusing those groups on things like FireSmart, evacuation planning ahead of a fire event in their community to really bring those teams together and get them working together before we just jumped to having them in a response capacity on a fire event. So really building those teams out first, focusing on prevention and what we can do ahead of the fire, but then when they are involved in a fire, it’s a very integrated approach working with BC Wildfire Service.

Reporter: Specifically, where does this leave homeowners who never expected the fire to come into their area, didn’t look ahead and take the training, but find themselves in a situation that is happening very quickly? Is training going to be offered to them or does this not address individual homeowners at all?

Eby: There are significant recommendations coming out of this that are already underway around supporting local communities and wildfire prevention, expansion of the FireSmart program. One of the important lessons, I think, that all British Columbians should take from what happened in West Kelowna and in Kelowna, is that the behaviour of the fires that we’re seeing is not the same as historic behaviour, something that the firefighters underlined over and over again.

There were homes on the other side of a massive lake, where embers should not have been travelling under historic fire behaviours, and the embers were travelling right across the lake and setting fires on the other side of the water. Homeowners that were a significant distance from any fire, from any forest area, who would not have thought that their homes were at risk from wildfire, were definitely at risk. So it’s important for people to take advantage of the local programs to the extent possible around FireSmarting homes, addressing potential sources of fuel and ignition near their home. 

There is no 100% answer here, but it can reduce some of the risk of your home burning in a wildfire event. Homeowners should not assume that because there is not a forest directly beside them, that they are immune from risk of wildfire in our province right now because of the level of drought that we’re seeing and because of the behaviour of the fires that we’re seeing.

Reporter: In the past, we’ve seen a lot of concerns, particularly from ranchers and farmers, about the inconsistencies in permitting, allowing people back for certain reasons, specified reasons at specified times. We hear a lot of fires don’t respect boundaries so when we have these mega fires, we’re finding that farmers and ranchers in one area are permitted back in, people (near) the same fire in a different area cannot. Has the task force looked at overhauling that permit system to make it more consistent and more fair so that everyone is on the same playing field?

Task force member: Short answer yes. Temporary authorized access to order areas was one of the conversations we talked about a lot. As a responder in the field back in 2015, our regional district experienced the Rock Creek fires and we had challenges just specifically with this access information for our farmers.

One of the key things that that we talked about was a consistent process across the province that BC Wildfire crews, Emergency Management, Climate Readiness and local government were all using the same process so that we weren’t having to learn a process in the middle of the response. That was a key recommendation to have one consistent process across the province that deals with temporary access for support of ranchers and farmers.

Reporter: The minister already talked about it a little bit, but could you expand on why Kamloops and specifically TRU was chosen for the centre?

Eby: Sure. So TRU, I understand it’s about three years ago, did some work to recruit a national leading expert from Alberta to come out here to form the basis of a research unit to really up the level of research around fire behaviour and best practice related to wildfire. That work was done in partnership with the BC Wildfire Service so the wildfire service already had this relationship with TRU, around research, around expertise in the area. So it was a natural for government, when we got the recommendation from the task force that there was this need for enhanced training, that we would look to TRU, because they already had the foundation in place, they already had the academic rigour in place on this wildfire side and the expansion of undergraduate credits as well as basic training, it made a lot of sense to have it all under one roof.

Reporter: Slightly off topic here, but the BCNU says that they believe the Northern Health memo on open drug use in hospitals is occurring across the province, that there are nurses who are physically ill from inhaling drug smoke in hospital rooms and in hallways, and that it has become a safety issue for them. What do you say to the nurses and what can you do to address that issue?

Eby: We’ve been working with nurses on safety issues in hospital and it’s not unique to BC or even to, unfortunately, the health care sector. Challenges around safety of retail workers, bus drivers, and others; a combination of mental health issues, addiction issues, and just general incivility causing problems in sectors that previously didn’t have to worry about having security. 

We partnered with the nurses union on providing additional security in hospitals. And just to be totally clear, you’re not allowed to smoke in the hospitals, you’re not allowed to vape in the hospitals, you’re not allowed to have weapons in the hospital, and that clarity, I think, is important and unfortunate that we have to say it out loud. 

But we will continue to work with the nurses union to make sure they have the security so their members can be safe at work, just like we want everybody to be safe at work in this province. 

Reporter: The nurses say this has gotten worse since decriminalization. The Northern Health memo links it to decriminalization. Are you troubled by this potentially being a byproduct of decriminalization, that we have this open drug use, that nurses are saying their safety is at risk, they’re inhaling fumes? One woman was unable to breast feed because she had walked through the plume of fentanyl in a hospital hallway. It seems linked to decrim so I’m wondering if that troubles you?

Eby: The initiative around ensuring that we’re keeping people alive, giving them a chance to get into treatment, was linked to a massive epidemic of opioid use disorder, people addicted to fentanyl and particularly increasingly lethal and dangerous drugs. We’re not unique in facing this epidemic in BC and it’s part of our effort to separate people from predatory drug dealers and get them in contact with the health care system. It’s an important initiative and we’re continuing to do work to ensure that simply because we understand addiction and want to give people these opportunities does not mean that you can use drugs anywhere you want. That’s why we introduced a new law to restrict drug use around places that everybody would expect — around the doorways of businesses, around parks, bus stops, and certainly the rules apply in hospitals. You can’t smoke in hospitals.

There is a serious addiction epidemic in this province, down the west coast of the US, and growing in other places like Alberta that we are coming to terms with. Decriminalization did not cause the epidemic, but it is part of the way that we’re trying to find ways to get health providers into a place to intervene and why we’re increasing so many options around treatment, to get people into treatment to deal with these addictions.

Reporter: It’s curious what I’m seeing about the enhanced technology and the AI. What is missing from that, what would it do, and are we getting it?

Eby: I’m happy to take it at a high level, but if someone’s more expert in this area, I’d be happy to pass the — OK, yeah, it sounds like a Mike Flannigan question. Crowd favourite, Dr Flannigan.

Michael Flannigan: My name is Mike Flannigan and I’m a fire guy and I’m glad to be here. It’s very exciting news. Artificial intelligence is a tool and can be a very effective tool where you have lots of data and, believe me, we have lots of data in fire. So it can help with predicting where extreme fire weather will occur, it will help predict where we expect new fire starts from lightning and from people, and using this will help us better react with initial attack, moving resources to the areas ahead of time, being proactive instead of reactive. Thank you.

Eby: Concise, informative answers is why Dr Flannigan is a crowd favourite, I think.

Reporter: If you could just clarify, Premier, that we actually will get what’s needed and what’s recommended on the list for the enhanced technology. And also I should ask you about money. I expect people would suggest that this is money well spent, but lots of money is going to be needed to do all this. Do we have it and do we have an idea of how much it’s going to cost?

Eby: Yeah, we’re going to implement all of the recommendations in the report, including the technology recommendations and yes, it’s expensive. We spent $1b last year responding to fires. Our hope is that investments like this assist us in minimizing the costs that we know we’re going to face going forward related to forest fire, wildfire, and also we haven’t talked about it, but many of the wildfire responders behind me also respond in cases of floods, to assist with sandbagging and other response to floods as well.

If we’re better able to prevent these climate related disasters or better able to respond and minimize the damage through FireSmart, through technology, then we’re able to reduce cost for the public. But we will absolutely have the resources available both in this year’s budget and through contingencies to ensure that we can respond to fire as needed. Thanks. So yeah, I thought I wouldn’t get a thumbs up, but I just did.

Reporter: Question regarding the cost of this new facility. What is the price tag? 

Eby: So we’re just in the early stages. The focus will initially be on course development and partnership with BC Wildfire Service and TRU, drawing from their expertise. And the building itself will go through a design process and a tendering process, but there’s no price tag yet because we’re at the very earliest stages of that. 

Reporter: The recommendations, I know we just had a question about money, but is there any price tag attached to the specific recommendations from the task force? 

Eby: So a number of the recommendations that are already underway, including the additional hiring of and leasing of aircraft, helicopters, and other firefighting equipment, the streamline training of the emergency response workers, the additional BC Wildfire Service members, and them working year round instead of seasonally, are all incorporated into the provincial budget this year already in the Ministry of Forests budget. 

Additional costs through the season that result from a wildfire response are dealt with a little bit through the base budget and also through contingencies that are available under the budget. So we will have the resources available as needed to make these recommendations reality. 

Some of these are also zero cost items. It’s just about how different organizations coordinate and communicate with each other, and those can be just as valuable as the larger price tag initiatives like this new training centre.

Reporter: Whistler’s released its community wildfire defence plan. They found that the community did the same risk category as the Okanagan and there’s the concern that there’s, in essence, one road in and one road out and it would take a huge amount of time to evacuate the community. Have you looked into this report? Are you concerned about it? What is the province doing to help find the necessary equipment and training needed the community, and what is there being done to help improve Whistler’s wildfire risk rating?

Ralston: Thanks very much. Yes, there was a comprehensive report which issued a number of recommendations. Whistler as a municipality and as a region is a FireSmart leader. They have a very well developed response, and although the report has pointed out some areas for improvement, they are definitely on top of those and I’m confident given the leadership there, and given the the prodding that the report has perhaps given the municipality, that the season that they are about to confront will be a safe one.

FireSmart has a number of dimensions, and as a community, they have a well-developed emergency response plan. Some of the recommendations of the task force will be helpful in the event of a response, simply because of the way in which the other ministry, the Emergency Response and Climate Resilience Ministry, responds to emergencies. There are recommendations there that they will take up and implement as well.So I’m confident that Whistler is a safe community and indeed a leader in British Columbia when it comes to potential fire response.

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Treasures come in assorted shapes and sizes. They might be a grandmother’s beaded purse, or an old apple basket like one resting atop my bookshelf that transports me to the family farm, with voices shouting from treetops as we pluck Macs and Golden Delicious. A personal scrapbook can also be an unexpected treasure, and The Shuswap Country by Erskine Burnett is just that.

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by Jim Cooperman

Everything Shuswap explores the region’s rich eco-types and its interwoven historical record. It’s a textbook for understanding one of the most beautiful and least understood landscapes and it should be mandatory reading for anyone who lives in or visits the Shuswap.” – Mark Hume, author of Adam’s River and other books